Get to know the crucial items to include in your web design contracts.
In simple terms, a contract is an agreement between you (the designer) and your client. You mutually agree to the contract terms, including deliverables, price, milestones, and delivery method. Most importantly, the contract also contains contingency plans, what-if scenario explanations, and breach of contract rules.
The importance of hiring a lawyer
An attorney can help you make sense of legal jargon and draft a contract that suits your needs. Plus, their experience helps you avoid common contract pitfalls that could lead to troublesome scenarios in the future.
Be sure your lawyer pays close attention to the breach of contract clause. You need to protect yourself from nonpayment, late payments, and breaches of the agreement. The clause should stipulate how much time the accused party has to address the violation and how the breach should be remedied.
Even if you use a contract template as your base, it’s worth having an attorney check it for accuracy before you start sending it to clients.
Caution: While working with templates, make sure you don’t copy and paste the contents of one completed contract into another. Nothing is more embarrassing than discovering the name and details of a former client in a contract you’ve sent to a different client.
The most vital parts of a web design contract
1. The parties involved
Most contracts begin with introducing the client and the service provider as the involved parties. This information is presented with the names of the parties and their full addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses.
2. Scope of work
Define the scope of work or, in other words, what needs to be completed. This protects you from doing anything outside the scope of this project if the client makes additional requests. It also protects the client from getting billed for work they did not agree to.
Make sure the scope of work clearly defines every service you will provide. For example, if you plan to do a load testing of the ecommerce website for your client, you need to mention it in the contract and account for the work in your price.
The client may assume activities related to web design are included, but these have to be explicitly stated in the contract. For instance, if the project includes additional services such as setting up web hosting or SEO, that work should be clearly defined in the contract.
Don’t forget about payment terms. Stipulate whether partial or full payment is required up front or if you will bill after project completion. Many freelancers charge project fees with payments due at different milestones. For example, your payment milestones might look like this:
- 25% of project fee is due as a deposit before work begins
- 25% of project fee is due when 50% of the work is done
- 50% of project fee is due upon project completion
You can set up payment milestones that work for you. Sometimes 25% of the project fee is requested at the 75% of the work done milestone too, or the initial deposit is 50% of the project fee.
Account for additional costs. If you plan to bill the client for things such as travel expenses to their office or subscription fees to a particular program or tool, include that in the contract as well.
Then, outline your acceptable payment methods such as PayPal, Stripe, FreshBooks, etc. If you charge a fee for late payments, mention that in this section too.
4. Feedback, revisions, and approvals
Your web design contract should also outline at which stages or milestones you will request feedback and how that feedback process will work. This will set expectations for both parties — and prevent you from submitting a project that isn’t what the client expected.
In the web design contract, clearly state when you will share work for review. Then, provide a time frame for the client to provide feedback. For example, you might submit a website prototype and give the client five business days to submit feedback. Of course, not all clients will respond within the time frame, so you need to lay out what happens if their feedback is delayed.
You might consider adding a stipulation that if feedback is not received within the stated time frame, the originally agreed-upon delivery date will be adjusted.
Clarify how many revision rounds are included in your project price. This goes back to the scope of work — you need to protect yourself from endless rounds of revisions.
5. Termination of contract and lawsuits
Though all projects start with good intentions of successful completion, not all projects will be completed. All web design contracts should define what happens if one or both parties decide to terminate the contract.
Stipulate what will happen in situations such as:
- You are unable to finish the work
- The client wants to stop work after the project has begun
- The client fails to submit payments at the agreed-upon milestones
For example, if you become ill halfway through a project and are unable to finish the work, your web design contract might stipulate that you will deliver all work currently completed and refund any charges for incomplete work. On the other hand, if your client decides to terminate the contract before it’s completed, your contract could stipulate that the full bill is owed.
If your company is in the United States, you need to mention the state jurisdiction in the case of a lawsuit. Miss this vital clause, and you’ll end up going to your client’s place of jurisdiction in the event of a lawsuit. Mentioning state jurisdiction will help you prevent the case from going to the federal court.
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6. Privacy and confidentiality
Most contracts have a built-in confidentiality agreement or nondisclosure agreement (NDA) that protects your client’s proprietary information. Including a confidentiality agreement or an NDA gives your customers peace of mind because it guarantees that you will protect all information, such as trade secrets and yet-to-be-announced promotions.
Your web design contract should also protect you. This section of your contract should address copyright issues. For instance, if the client is providing all images, your contract should state that the client is responsible for all usage licenses and copyright permissions. This way, you’re protected from any copyright infringement issues if the client sends you images that they do not have the proper license to use. The same goes for other mediums of content, too.
7. Ownership and work for hire
The client usually takes ownership of the work, including the complete source code of the site. The contract’s work for hire clause will determine whether you own the coding behind the site. You can request that the client place a copyright notice on their site or a “Designed by” credit with a link to your website that will potentially bring in more customers. Additionally, you can request permission in the contract to showcase the site in your portfolio.
One sure way of winning your client over is to offer a warranty that if anything malfunctions on the site within a period of three or four months after delivery of the website, it would be rectified and supported free of cost — provided the fault was in the programming or designing of the website. Clients will welcome such a line in the contract and trust your work more.
However, you should also include the line that if the website is damaged due to an incident of hacking or some other malware beyond the scope of your company’s services, the client would pay for the repairs. The client has to take care of the website they fully own, and the fact that it is their responsibility to look after their website once it has been delivered must be explicitly included in the contract.
9. Force majeure
Though often ignored, the force majeure is an integral part of the contract that needs consideration. This clause will stipulate what happens in an event beyond your control that is not your fault and was not foreseeable — such as a global pandemic. This clause is more important than ever, and we recommend you include one in your contracts. A sample can be found here, courtesy of Law Insider.
10. Additional witnesses
In a remote work environment, contracts are mostly signed virtually and additional witnesses are not needed. However, in some cases, an additional witness from both sides is included to add more credibility to the formally accepted contract. The witnesses’ contact details are included too.
11. Signoff and signatures
The two parties are mentioned again here and are requested to sign, thereby agreeing to the contents of the contract.
A contract is a legal document that should begin a good relationship between you and the client. Although it will contain several clauses to protect you and your client, it shouldn’t be intimidating. Use plain language rather than legal jargon. Whenever possible, keep your agreement to a page or two and pave the way for a wonderful working relationship.
Jumpstart your freelance business
Now that you know the ins and outs of a web design contract, check out our curated reading list on everything you need to know for your freelance business.